11th July 42
Dear Mother & Dad
The rains seem to have set in for the day so we’ve retired to the tent for a while. I’m in charge of a little job that calls for a rather practical application of wog methods of construction but neither I nor the blokes with me are very partial to the task. We have to build a kitchen oven with all the appointments of a set-in cast iron stove out of mud and straw, and although we’ve all watched the wogs, the job of creating draft and flu etc is a rum ‘un. However we’ll get there somehow.
Your welcome letter of the sixth arrived last night together with one from May. By Jove she must be having a hard trot. She’s as game as Ned Kelly too. I certainly hope things have improved for her now.
I imagine Brisbane would be a much changed place since you were here Dad. It’s the most scattered town I was ever in, but I can’t say I notice much difference in the people. To me they seem more like Tasmanians than any other people in Australia. Of course we may have acquired some of their mannerisms through being with some of them so long. But you’d certainly enjoy being up here for a while.
We’ve been quite busy this week and I collected a bit of a cold so I went to town with another chap the other night and we had a Turkish bath. It certainly sweated the cold out too – the quickest one I ever had.
I bought Mother a pair of shoes for her birthday. I hope they make the grade all right and that she likes them. I was in a bit of a fog about coupons but had no trouble at all. They’re only a medium heel Mother but I noticed when I was home that you were wearing much lower heels so hope these are OK. Don’t look for them too soon because I won’t be able to send them till Wednesday.
Ray Ross took Dick Lewis and I home to tea last night to meet the bride. She’s certainly a very charming girl but I fancy she’ll be boss of the show. She showed us the best collection of snaps of England and the Middle East we’ve seen. Ray had a camera and Peggy’s brother and a brother-in-law were also away in different units and all carried cameras.
Except for a fresh current of rumours about leave that seem to crop up every few days, I’m afraid there isn’t any more news I can send you so with best wishes to May & Anne and regards to the boys I’ll say cheerio.
Jim McDonnell & Claude Geeves send their best regards
Perhaps a motivation for the construction challenge!? (Photo – Dick Lewis)
18th July 1942
Dear Mother & Dad
I’ve got at least an hour before the sun goes down so will make the best of it. We’ve just come back from a short route march – we’ve had a bit of a bath and have the rest of the day to ourselves. It’s an absolutely glorious day – just like the middle of spring. In fact there’s quite a lot of peach blossom out. Everyone says it’s the mildest winter ever known here.
Your welcome letter of the 13th arrived yesterday along with one from Jack who seems to be sparking on all cylinders. Sorry to hear of your mishap dad and hope the foot is soon better. There’s no doubt about the joints when they’re shoved out a bit they play up. The mater must be putting on condition if the doctor has put her on a diet. I’m putting the pounds on myself too. Since I knocked off smoking I must have put on a stone. Both May and Ivy seem to be having a hard trot. May particularly. Ivy has to have her teeth out – a bad job at this stage of the game.
The little mention you make of Rennies is quite interesting. What’s the position with property and mortgages these days, and how would you be placed? I guess it would sell alright. If the law’s on our side give those bastards no quarter at all. Rennie is alright himself but that bloody woman – well, the sky’s the limit.
I think I mentioned in my last letter that the MO had set me a queer job. Well we did the job – the draw and draft are perfect, we’re just waiting for the pioneers to make some doors for the oven then will see if the cooks can cook.
I was in town with Basher Bill [Bill Collis]. I’ve mentioned him at times. He puts on some rare turns at times. Well we went to a cafe for tea. Bill had already had tea in camp – I was a bit late and missed out – so he just had some coffee and toast and I had steak and eggs. When he had finished his toast he raced away to get some cigarette papers and took the bill with him. So I asked the cashier if he’d paid and she said “Are you the baldie headed bloke?” I said “No, not me”, she grinned and the people at two tables chuckled. Anyway she said ‘That’s alright you’re paid for’. The joke was certainly on me. Dick Lewis who had been sitting five or six tables from the cashier said he heard Bill say – “I’m paying for Dad, the bald headed old bloke over in the corner”. So it was no wonder they all laughed.
Another night I went in with Aggie Lloyd. We were picked up by a man and a woman in a big sedan – a rare sight these days . He had a big government job somewhere. When we were nearly into town the lady asked us if we were doing anything special. Of course we weren’t so they invited us home to dinner. We had a lovely hot bath and a marvellous feed then they showed us some albums of snaps they’d taken in their travels – a great collection too – and we’re invited to go out any time we like.
We’re in a bit of training for a fifty mile marathon – it comes off Monday. If we break the record and comply with the conditions we get twenty gallons of beer – so you can imagine the boys will be flat out. But it’s a tough course and we’ve got a lot of doubtfuls, however I’ll be able to tell you more about it next week.
Things don’t seem too rosy just at present. The Russian news is bad and in other places it’s none too good. Quite a lot of the old hands would be willing to go back to the middle east and although I hate the idea of another sea trip – another Pundit campaign would be hell – but if they call for volunteers I’ll go.
I must say cheerio now. My love to May & Anne and regards to the boys.
Your loving son
PS Jim McDonnell & Nuggett Geeves send their best wishes.
Dad (centre) and Bob (‘Stainless’) Steele NX4831 (Photo Dick Lewis)
25th July 42
Dear Mother & Dad
Sorry to hear that the winter is making itself felt so hard this year. You’ve certainly struck a bad patch – Mother with lumbago and Dad with gout. I think you’re right in giving the wine a bye. McDevitt used to suffer pretty badly with gout and if I remember rightly he used to take Epsom Salts for it. There’s no doubt about it this is the climate for winter – but I suppose it will be very hot up here in the summer. It would be good to be able to spend the summer in Tassie and the winter up here.
You mention that you haven’t seen Mick Mason for some time. Well I had a letter early this week and he said he’d just about cut out on the job he was on and didn’t quite know what he would do next, but he certainly won’t be out of work. If he gets in the line you suggest he’ll develop into a bludger and when he wants to he’s a good worker. He said his wife expected to present him with twins shortly so I guess he won’t want to have too much lost time.
I haven’t seen Dick [Schultz] for about ten weeks but old Nugget said his wife told him in a letter that Dick was going home. I wonder whether he’s worked the oracle . He’s been battling to get out ever since he came back but I think he must mean that he’s copped some leave. It needs more than diplomacy to get out these days.
I sent mother a birthday telegram on the 21st though I don’t expect she would get it that day. I booked a phone call at the post office on Saturday for seven o’clock Tuesday night and when I went in I enquired about the call and was told it should be through at any minute. Then somewhat after eight o’clock the girl said there were fifty five calls ahead of mine to Tasmania and eleven hours’ delay on the line so of course I had to cancel the call and send a wire instead. I was quite disappointed myself.
Perry’s circus came up to the little joint near the camp and quite a lot of our fellows went to it. There’s no doubt about it they haven’t much sense of humour. Can you imagine any of our blokes going to a circus? We’ve got more tents and more clowns than any circus. I was down at the Q store the other day and listened to the quartermaster sergeant telling the story to an AMF (CMF?) Major who had come to see how we do things. Well the QM in question has a reputation for baloney but he absolutely excelled himself. The most bare faced lies ever heard. It was too brilliant to be convincing – we are the soldiers of HG Wells’ imagination – rum issues, beer parties out of regimental funds and concerts once a week and as for washing well nobody ever so much as washed a handkerchief. I couldn’t help saying when the major had left “There’s no doubt about it, if Baloney was music you’d be grand opera”.
There was a a big Red Cross dance at one of the big suburbs last night and battalion provided transport for those who wanted to go. It was quite a good turnout too – good floor, plenty of girls and good supper.
We’ll I guess I’ve just about exhausted the local news so with love to May and Anne and regards to the troops will say cheerio
Your loving son
A Red Cross Dance
This Red Cross dance was in Hobart but no doubt the event mentioned in this letter was similar.
Photo : CJ Dennison – Hobart at War 1939 to 1945
Perry’s (?) Circus
According to http://www.pennygaff.com.au/heritage.html :
During the Second World War, the activities of all travelling shows were curtailed. Most circuses closed up as staff and performers volunteered for the war effort. As a morale boosting measure, the authorities allowed Wirth’s Circus to continue operations on a limited scale.